Standing Room Only! Candidate Forum for Crook County Commission

Dear ROPnet,

Our democracy requires that the public is well-informed and participates in the democratic process. Right now, as the votes from Oregon’s May primaries are getting tallied, many of us are reflecting on what went well and what we can do better leading up to the November election to fulfill that important aspect of democracy. With less than 6 months until the general elections, now is a great time to swap stories and lessons learned with other human dignity organizers across the state. Did your community ensure everyone’s voices were heard by having a high voter turnout? Did voters have enough information about who and what was on the ballot to make informed decisions?

This year, many county commission (or county court) seats are up for election, and some nonpartisan races were decided in the May primary election. County government doesn’t get nearly as much coverage as presidential or congressional races, despite having control over key community infrastructure including housing, mental health, roads, and in some communities, water, libraries, parks and recreation, and more! While these positions hold a huge amount of power, it can be difficult to find good information on who you are voting for. In Crook County, they solved this issue by hosting a candidate forum where community members could ask the questions they wanted answers to, and hear directly from the candidates themselves! Read on for the newspaper report on the event as well as the nuts and bolts of how they put on the forum so your group can do it too.

Have you or are you planning a candidate forum this election season? Interviewing candidates over the radio or with your local paper? Surveying candidates on your group’s priorities? Let us know what your group is up to and reach out if you want support in your planning by emailing Sidra at sidra@rop.org.

Crook County candidates take voter questions at forum

Event draws large crowd to discuss local issues

Jason Chaney

Apr 4, 2024

Updated Apr 8, 2024

Candidates speaking into microphones at forum.
Candidates speaking into microphones at forum.
Candidates speaking into microphones at forum.
Candidates speaking into microphones at forum.

There were few empty seats in Pine Theater Wednesday evening as voters got to hear their county commissioner candidates address local issues.

The candidate forum was sponsored by the Crook County Democratic Central Committee, but the moderator, Laura Craska Cooper, stressed at the beginning of the event that the forum was completely nonpartisan, as are the commissioner positions.

All four commissioner candidates appeared at the forum, including Susan Hermreck, who is running unopposed for commissioner position 1, a position she was appointed to last fall, as well as commissioner position 3 candidates Ken Fahlgren, Monty Kurtz, and incumbent Seth Crawford.

Visitors were issued numbered tickets that Cooper then selected at random, giving multiple residents a chance to ask questions. The topics ranged from opinions on the Greater Idaho Movement – which all candidates said they opposed – to job growth, business diversity, and more. One visitor asked the candidates about the county’s recent transition from a county court with a full-time judge and part-time commissioners to a board of full-time commissioners and a full-time county manager.

Read more about the forum from the Central Oregonian here.

The Making of the Candidate Forum

The Crook County Democrats started discussing the idea at a January planning meeting. In February they decided to move it forward. To do so, they started by inviting the county republican party to cosponsor the forum to put forward a bipartisan event. While the Crook County Republican Party decided not to participate, the Democrats still moved forward, reaching out to candidates with two potential dates and getting agreement on the best one. They set the date for Wednesday, April 3rd, and reached back out to each candidate confirming the date, location, time, and moderator.

They intentionally chose Laura Cooper as the moderator because she is well respected and seen as fair-minded by a large swath of the community and has lived in Prineville for a long time. LaQuita Stec, a kind and assertive woman who used to be on the Crook County Library Board, agreed to be the timekeeper to keep the event running smoothly.

In the weeks leading up to the forum, the group put the word out via the local paper, The Central Oregonian, the Chamber of Commerce, and other local networks. At ROP we typically recommend starting your outreach six weeks before an event. Check out our outreach planning template here for more details

When the day arrived, every commissioner candidate participated! The moderator laid out the ground rules for everyone, which followed the format our US Senators use for their town halls:

  • The event was 90 minutes long
  • Each candidate had 3 min for opening statements.
  • People in the audience could grab a numbered ticket.
  • The moderator drew tickets to determine the order of the Q and A. 
  • Candidates had 90 sec to respond to each question, and the order of who responded first rotated for each question. 
  • When your number was called you could ask a question. No comments were accepted from the audience.
  • To wrap up, each candidate had 60 seconds to share a closing statement.

In the end, the Pine Theatre was packed, with 162 people attending, and the owner was thrilled about the boost in business from selling concessions during the forum and from opening up his space to many new faces who may now return for other events. After the forum, organizers heard a lot of positive feedback from community members and the newspaper reported on the event, making the information accessible to folks who weren’t able to attend. Even a member of the county republican party leadership attended and shared that he wished his group had supported the effort after seeing that it was so successful.

What is your community doing to provide access to election information for all? Let us know so we can share your story with the rest of the state! Email us at sidra@rop.org.

Warmly,
Sidra and the ROP team

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